The Tanzanian police and army are using unrestrained force to shoot, injure, and kill people on Pemba and Zanzibar islands.
Over the weekend of January 27-28, 2001, supporters of the opposition party the Civic United Front (CUF) planned a peaceful demonstration to protest last year's flawed elections. The CUF enjoys widespread support on the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. Before the rallies could get underway, the government reportedly responded by shooting indiscriminately into crowds and using clubs to beat demonstrators on Zanzibar and Pemba islands.
"The Tanzanian government is seeking to silence the political opposition through terror and violence," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The security forces must be held accountable for their brutality against unarmed people."
The president of Zanzibar, Amani Abeid Karume spoke on television on January 28, congratulating the police for their efforts and warning those involved in the demonstration that the government will punish all those who took part. He did not call on the police to end their rampage, nor did he state that security forces who have used unrestrained force would be held responsible for their actions. "The crackdown on Pemba and Zanzibar and the statement made by President Karume are unacceptable," said Peter Takirambudde.
Human Rights Watch also has received reports indicating that a police helicopter attacked several boats that were attempting to transport injured people to Mombasa, Kenya, to obtain medical care. At least one boat was sunk and an unknown number of people died.
According to credible information from local organizations, the government deployed hundreds of police. In addition to shooting unarmed civilians and beating people, security forces are reported to have blocked access to a hospital, denying the wounded medical care. Police are allegedly dragging people from their houses at night and from the hospital wards, and beating or jailing them in overcrowded police cells where conditions are now dismal. The security forces have forced people into their homes and harassed people found in the streets.
On January 26, 2001, the CUF chairman, Ibrahim Lipumba, was charged in capital city Dar-es-Salaam, with unlawful assembly and disturbing the peace along with fifteen other CUF members.
Human Rights Watch called on the president to punish the security force members who have attacked unarmed people. The government should permit the wounded to seek medical care, and should also give international humanitarian groups access to the wounded, especially those in jails.